Discussion: Parents in YA Novels


Regardless of my undying love for Young Adult literature, I’m still able to recognize the genre’s stereotypical flaws and pitfalls – most notably, the parents.  The parents and their relationships with their children are often portrayed in an extremely unrealistic manner.  I can guarantee that at age twelve I wasn’t praising my parents left and right or providing them with financial or relationship advice, so why does that seem to be the standard in young adult novels?

Overall, parents in young adult books seem to be questionably missing for the majority of the novel, setting few (if any) boundaries for their children that are poorly enforced at best.  Their general irresponsibility and cluelessness as to their children’s whereabouts would probably be enough to send my own mother into cardiac arrest (or make her hair stand on end, at the very least).  I just have never been able to fathom how much freedom teenagers in young adult novels were granted – their parents, for the most part, have no complaints with them hopping on their boyfriend’s motorcycle and going for a moonlit ride at 3am.  While there may be justifiable reasons for parental absence in a portion of these novels, the majority of them never provide a reasonable explanation.

If you haven’t recognized this in your personal reading (or are simply struggling to remember a few books that fit this description), here are a few examples:

  • Obsidian (Book #1 in the Lux Series): Katy spends the majority of her time alone due to her mother’s demanding job.  Therefore, she has pretty much free run of the house and is able to come and go as she pleases…as well as invite over whomever she likes.  While her mother eventually places some restrictions on her after finding a naked guy in her bed, her mother was relatively nonchalant, even after that…uncomfortable incident.
  • Harry Potter Series: In light of the death of Harry’s biological parents, he is placed under the care of his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon.  As his legal guardians, they are required to care for him and look after his well-being, but they manage to perform the bare minimum.  They are more than thrilled to rid of Harry when his Hogwarts letter arrived, and based upon the facts that his bedroom is initially the cupboard under the stairs and he was repeatedly bullied by his cousin, Dudley, Harry’s more than ready to leave Privet Drive.
  • Twilight Saga: Where are Bella’s parents throughout the series?  She actually gets on a plane and travels to an international country, and her father is none the wiser.  Isn’t there an alarm bell going off or some mild shred of concern when your teenage daughter disappears for several days on end?
  • The Hunger Games: After losing her father in a mining accident, Katniss is forced to fend for her family and secure adequate food after her mother begins to shut down.  Katniss assumes full responsibility for household chores and looking after her younger sister, Prim.  In her final moments with her family before departing for the Hunger Games (for the first time), she begs her mother to “snap out of it” and care for Prim in her absence.  Katniss also pleads with Gale to ensure that her family remains fed and that basic necessities are fulfilled.
  • Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have): When April’s parents decide to relocate out of state, she pleads to stay at her friend Vi’s house so that she can complete her junior year of high school without transferring mid-semester.  Little do her parents know, Vi’s mother will be out of town for the remainder of the school year.  Long story short, without any semblance of rules and a house all to themselves, things get a bit out of hand…on multiple occasions.

To put it into perspective, how many young adult novels would have been able to take place had the parents been present and potentially even strict?  Very, very few.  As the New York Times stated:

“The most sharply written and critically praised works reliably feature a mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab parent, suggesting that this has become a particularly resonant figure.”

Why has this become the norm in the Young Adult genre?  Why are parents either never-present workaholics or emotionally/physically checked out?  Is this a reflection of our modern-day culture?

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I am a senior in high school and an avid reader/reviewer, horseback rider, and graphic designer.  Since a young age, I have fostered a love of reading, beginning with my forays into the Nancy Drew series.  I’ve branched out significantly in my reading tastes since then, and my favorite genres include young adult, romance, mystery, and thriller.  I’m constantly trying to expand my horizons, however, so I do dabble in other genres.  While I’m not reading, I volunteer at a hippotherapy center and a veterinary clinic, practice agility with my dogs, play piano, and sketch.
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6 thoughts on “Discussion: Parents in YA Novels

  1. The kids in my story have attentive and nice parents that they don’t want to worry – lucky for them they have a magic device that freezes humans/time. “Where has the week gone?” Or “It feels like it’s been Monday forever!” LOL


  2. My sister and I have this conversation a lot, but about Disney Channel parents. We’ve noticed that as we’ve gotten older, the parents have become a lot more annoying. So many parents on Disney Channel shows now are just complete airheads!

    I’ve read quite a few YA books that make me question what some of these authors are doing, but a lot of them do get it right. A book I loved with a lot of parental guidance, albeit, a bit too much was Robin Benway’s Emmy and Oliver.

    A lot of YA, especially fantasy, scifi, and dystopia, follows The Hero’s Journey, so I’m okay with missing parents or strange parents and guardians in those books (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and countless others). It seems like a lot of those authors try to follow Campbell’s plotting method, and that starts with a strange or unusual birth, so the best way to do that it to create an orphan or an abandoned kid.

    Now the contemporary YA has me shaking my head a lot because that is where I’d really expect to see involved parents. Like right now, I’m reading This Raging Light, and I’m just thinking about how unrealistic it really is. Like at this point, someone would have stepped in to rectify Lucille’s situation, but nope.

    I’ve only read a few middle grade titles, but it seems like there is a huge difference. There are a lot more parents or guardians in that age range, and that makes me happy.


    • That’s interesting that you’ve picked up on some differences between parents in young adult and middle grade novels. Since I don’t personally read many middle grade novels, I hadn’t made the connection before! I wonder if it’s an attempt to soften the material in the middle grade books because they’re geared toward a younger audience, or if there is truly a different mindset for the authors when they’re writing.


  3. I HATE that trend of absentee parents!! It’s so frustrating. Now, The Hunger Games doesn’t really bother me, mainly because 1) the mom actually DOES have a reason for shutting down (even if it’s no excuse) and 2) it IS addressed that she needs to be better, while most of the other absentee parents just do their own thing and ignore their kids and no one ever talks about it. Great post!


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